Over 9 episodes featuring 200,000 words (according to Medier24.no) the Norwegian multimedia article “The Boy In The Plastic Bag” has told a nerve wracking, but true story of a boy who was – as you’ve probably guessed – found in a plastic bag.
Chapter one – “The Screams From The Cemetary” – jumps right into the moment when 58 year old Tor Schoug Nilsen hears a strange sound when he’s visiting a grave. After exploring and finding the source coming from a plastic bag, Tor is shocked when he sees a blue, frozen and alive newborn baby.
The article was a multi digital feature media project and was released in 9 chapters over 9 weeks, with over 2.1 million views on the first chapter, according to Journalisten.no.
More than a normal ‘long read’
The article sets out to find out what happens with the boy and most importantly – where is he now? Bernt Jakob Oksnes, journalist in Dagbladet, spent over two years researching, traveling, gathering information and writing the article.
“I had actually already sent the article in to my editor, but we kept finding new sources, documents and witnesses and before we knew it, this was more than a normal ‘long read.’ It had all the ingredients to be a running narrative with it’s dramatic turns and True Crime-ish plot, Oksnes writes in an email.”
“Something that big had never been done before in a Norwegian newspaper. We applied for internal funds to develop a bigger, digital story and got a thumbs up. That was amazing!”
He got the hunch for the story when he was researching another case and decided to dive into it to see what he could find. But where do you start? All you have is a twenty year old case file from the police and a couple of old articles.
“One thing is to do research, but I’m more into making scenes and telling a story. The scenes are the main part of a good feature article; the scenes have to set the mood and the tone to drag the reader into the universe you’re making.”
The best way to make scenes is to find people to talk to, so that’s what he did – drove into town to find someone to talk to.
Kept in touch
A 23 year old crime case does not come without its problems. Oksnes had to get through both legal and ethical challenges along the way, not to mention finding witnesses that were alive and tracking the boy down in the city of Manila (he and his mother eventually moved to the Philippines) with over 15 million people.
Without spoiling the story, we can say as much as it has a good ending.
“I kept in touch with the boy and he has been very positive to the story. He has gotten tons of friend requests and messages from Norway, even though we didn’t publish his last name to keep him somewhat anonymous. When we published the last story on Saturday, November 19th, he wrote ‘Congratulations on your story.’ I was very grateful and happy to get that message,” Oksnes writes.
When chapter 4 was released, Dagbladet decided to let premium subscribers of the newspaper read the next chapter before everyone else. The idea got the newspaper tons of new subscribers which shows that there’s room for financing quality journalism in new, creative ways.
“Those who have followed the story from the very start – and that’s been a lot of people – have given me very good response. I’ve received feedback from some of the most influential workers of the media industry in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, including social media and the common reader,” says Oksnes.
“We saw the contours of an translated version halfway through the process because it’s a universal story that can work across cultures and language. We’ve pitched the idea to a few international media editorials and they loved it.”
A translated, English version is on it’s way, but for now, the pictures, videos and sound clips are worth a look. Get the whole story HERE.